It is an aberration to call the army – alongside other arms of the Nigerian military, to fight the terrorist activities of Boko Haram. It’s as if the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), whose primary constitutional duty is the maintenance of internal peace, amongst others, does not exist. That the army is so engaged – in an unconventional conflict – in the north-east of the country, is an indictment of the Nigerian government on how, for well over 45 years, the men and officers of the NPF have been starved of funds to perform their security obligations – and the extent of unrelieved neglect of the agency. It’s as if, again, since 1966, the military had plotted a coup against the NPF.
A former head of the Public Relations Department of the NPF (Force Headquarters, Abuja) and retired Commissioner of Police, Chief Frank Odita, said that the degree of neglect of the NPF was an index of large-scale corruption and unsound governance under which the country now groans.
He has, therefore, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to recognise the NPF as the premier security agency of the country, as far as internal security is concerned, and should be funded properly, so that its operatives would be motivated to perform well its statutory duties. “To do otherwise,” he said, “would be disastrous for the country. Bear in mind that her population is well on the rise: she’s, indeed, one of the ten most populous countries in the world – and as unemployment soars, especially amongst the products of tertiary institutions, there’s a strong likelihood, that the frequency of crime might be ambitious.
There’s, therefore, a binding need, to inject a generous amount of funds into the NPF. That should go into the acquisition of crime-fighting equipment, welfare, intelligence gathering, so as to ready the police for urban terrorism by mainly unemployed university graduates, capacity-building in form of continuous training and upgrading and equipping of all the institutions of the NPF, and an aggressive – if guarded, engagement of new operatives, so as to help the current, if abysmally wide ratio of the NPF to the rest of the population.” Odita was of the view that “the answer to the problem of the NPF is that if you do not recruit the right calibre of people, equip them properly and pay them well, you would not get the right result”. He said that government and politics had been unkind to the NPF, but, even so “every politician wants an operative of the NPF as a bodyguard – either standing behind him at a public function or seated in front of his posh car, whenever he ventures out of his residence, but when it comes to helping the welfare of the agency, to which he belongs, the same politicians will say the policemen are corrupt.”
And Odita asked: “Why do you neglect the policeman, who cares so much about you – the security man who can face the bullet, so that you the politician or top government official is not hurt?”. He observed that the same brave policemen are still quartered in very squalid environment, as in Obalende, in Lagos – not too far from Kam Salem House, on Moloney Street. The Obalande Barracks, Odita recalled, was built probably in the 1930s or ’40s, in which case, it ought, by now, to have been given a befitting face-lift, as a sign of care on the part of the Federal Government and motivation for the tenants there.
It was because of the indefensible neglect of the men and officers of the NPF – and the attendant instances of some grievous crimes, like bank robbery and kidnapping, which is quite common, nowadays, being committed, with the hands behind them escaping unscathed – and much to the worsening of public peace and security, Odita observed, that the Lagos State Government, had made it a part of its security architecture to provide, annually, the Police Command with an impressive number of patrol vehicles and sophisticated anti-crime gadgets. Although Odita is in support of the Lagos State Government’s generous intervention – not necessarily because it’s for the good of those he’s left behind in the NPF, he said the security imperative was quite compelling. That, too, he said, was yet a demonstration of the Federal Government’s neglect of the police force, for, as he put it: “The NPF is an agency of the Federal Government, which is why it’s known as the Nigeria Police Force; not the police force of any state; not even Lagos.
It presupposes that if the Lagos State Government had not engaged the State Command of the NPF, so strategically, and in a sustainable manner, it’s likely that it would have been helpless – at the risk of a high rate of crimes that would make the state unfriendly to tax-yielding and employment-generating businesses to thrive. Where the Federal Government has failed the men and officers of the NPF, the Lagos State Government has come to their rescue”. The Buhari administration, in Odita’s estimation, should be a turning point in the affairs of the NPF; a time to stop its neglect. As the din subsides, in the war against Boko Haram, he said that it may interest Abuja to restore dignity and pride to the NPF, in that there were brains in the NPF that could be engaged in nation-building: the promotion of the country’s democratic institutions, crime control and steeling of public peace and safety.
Odita is, perhaps, right, in that the current skipper of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – Ibrahim Mustafa Magu – is a respected product of the NPF. He’s the man behind the tedious job of fighting corruption that is threatening the orderly progress of sustainable human development of this country. The police force, whence he was extracted to fight today’s astronomical, deep-rooted corruption, should be saluted. The Buhari administration is evidently pleased to have him as an ally in its campaign against graft. Besides, a crushing majority of the cases of gargantuan corruption – all in billions of Naira – that have been unearthed by the EFCC, Odita observed, were by politicians and their accomplices either in government or the private sector; not by the officers and men of the NPF.
Perhaps, it may interest the Buhari administration, as Odita rightly offered, to inject a highly visible amount of all recovered stolen public funds – at least 30 per cent, say – to meet the needs of the men and officers of the long-neglected NPF; after all, it’s a policeman – Ibrahim Mustafa Magu – who’s behind the revealing investigations. Add the fact that the NPF has in its ranks individuals who have excelled in international assignments, like the United Nations Peace-Keeping Missions in the Balkans, the Congo and East Africa – such that they were given awards, and, so, made the country proud. Which is why, the NPF, as poorly funded and equipped, presently, is one of the weakest links in the country’s democracy.
Still, it was in his ambitious effort to correct the erroneous impression that the Nigerian public had of the police force that – in his heyday, as the head of Public Relations Department (Force Headquarters, Abuja), when a supportive Mr. Aliyu Ibrahim Attah was the Inspector-General – Odita had a slogan boldly inscribed in his office to the effect that: “If you hate the police, when next you are attacked, call a thug!” Then, Odita had a good rapport with the Nigerian media, to the extent that, with a generous dose of well-designed public relations frills fed into the activities of the NPF, there was a new, promising perception of the force.
One of the leading historians of the NPF, who has a good diction and command of the English language – he could be mistaken for an ex-broadcaster of the conservative school – Odita recalled that the NPF was the mother of all other security forces in the country: “The army was born out of the Ulster Constabulary of the Nigeria Police Force, which was an arm of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), during World War II. Every other service was created out of the NPF. The State Security Service (SSS), now known as the Department of State Security (DSS), used to be the Special Branch of the Nigeria Police Force, before it was excised – in the ’70s – and named the National Security Organisation (NSO). The Nigeria Prison Service was once referred to as the Police Prison Service. The Nigeria Customs Service used to be called the Nigeria Police Customs and Excise. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was the Nigeria Police Anti-Narcotic Unit. The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) was formerly the Federal Highway Patrol of the Nigeria Police Force. The Federal Fire Service, the Nigeria Police Fire Brigade. There was, also, the Police Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs), concerned with issuing of vehicle licences and registration”.
It was, Odita figured, because of this impressive dossier, that the military – in all the years that the country crawled “from coup to coup” – became, ironically though, envious of the NPF”. It’s on record that some of the Generals, who were unsuccessful, in getting enlisted in the Nigeria Police Cadet School, for Cadet Inspector course – a course that required candidates to have five credits, including English language and Mathematics, as some of its requisite qualifications, were the hands that pressed the funds famine that, to this day, has emaciated the NPF. Before then, Odita, recalled, time was when the NPF, in its glorious days, enjoyed a pride of place, in its active liaison with the Metropolitan Police in London. The Force Central Intelligence Department (FCID), based in Abuja, which is supposed to be Nigeria’s response to Scotland Yard, is almost an empty shell.
Odita is guardedly optimistic that the Buhari administration might be generous enough towards the NPF. It’s not too late – in the Fourth Republic – to embark on some form of renaissance in the NPF, so as to give the country and her tax-payers an agency that they would be proud of. The time for that is now – not when, amidst state-induced – if self-destructive, caries of this day in the NPF, operatives of sophisticated, organised crime rings start kidnapping or assassinating ambassadors, vice-chancellors, rectors, royal fathers, business tycoons, law-makers, top government officials etc., in a manner quite reminiscent of the painful death, of the Italian Prime Minister – Aldo Moro – in the hands of the Red Brigade, in the late ’70s.